Zillow Is My Pinterest: On Buying A House Before 30
Part One of a Series that follows Lexie, a middle school teacher in Nashville navigating the process of buying a home all by herself and before she thought she would.
Last spring I was hired at a charter school in Nashville, Tennessee. At a recruitment carnival I met two of my colleagues, both single women in the process of buying their first houses. Something happened in that conversation – I guess it was the nonchalant way they said they were proud of themselves for having done this independently of their boyfriends and describing the process as much easier than they thought it would be – and I became obsessed with the idea of buying a house for myself.
I know a lot of women my age who spend time pinning their dream weddings, browsing for engagement rings, keeping Facebook friends until after they’ve gotten married just so they could see pictures from the wedding (okay, maybe that’s just me?), but none of that has ever been as enticing to me as looking at real estate listings on Zillow and Movoto.
I never thought I would seriously consider buying a house before I turned 30, or at least before I got married. After I accepted my first teaching job just outside of Galesburg, Illinois, my dad casually suggested that if I planned on staying there, I should go ahead and buy because the houses are so cheap (averaging at about $90,000). I was 22 at the time and paying $375 a month for a one bedroom apartment in a renovated railroad mansion. I had no idea where I would eventually settle, so I ignored his suggestion. I stayed an extra year before I realized that unless I planned on marrying a farmer, I really had to leave. My closest friend had recently decided to apply to pharmacy schools in Nashville, so I decided to take a chance and move back to the South.
My first year here I did not think much about buying a house. I worked at a failing middle school in East Nashville and I began dating my current boyfriend. About six months into our relationship, we started talking about moving in together. Cohabitation is already a loaded conversation in the Bible belt, but buying a house together before engagement or marriage? Forget it. Even my boyfriend’s liberal parents were hesitant to show support for that. We tabled the conversation, but the obsession pressed on. I finally worked out a timeline for myself – my lease is up in July of 2015 and I am due to make my last car payment that same month. Why not go ahead and see what I would be approved for? I asked my colleague for her mortgage lender’s card, and I scheduled a meeting. I met with the lender on a Wednesday at an Applebee’s, where we had a hour-long conversation about my financial history and budget: I have almost 23K in student loan debt and $1,300 left on my auto loan, no credit card debt, and my gross income is $43,000. I have $3,000 in savings and try to leave myself $200 wiggle room in my checking account at all times. I pay $550 a month for rent (my half) and my general living expenses aside from my car payment and student loan payment are about $250 a month. I gave him my information, and about three hours later, I was pre-approved for a home loan up to $150,000.
After I got my approval, I started checking real estate listings, even though I had no immediate plans to buy. I started to refine my search criteria: at least 1.5 bathrooms, hardwood floors, a deck, porch, or patio space, and small yard. Due to ever-increasing gentrification and development, I eventually had to open up my search criteria outside of East Nashville. I started sharing links with both my boyfriend and my roommate, and eventually they both expressed concern about my venture. My roommate has no desire to leave our current rental, and my boyfriend is hesitant to make a commitment to purchasing at this point in his life.
So where does that leave me?
Option one is pursue purchasing a house independently, well under my $150,000 limit, and move in by myself. This would most likely be a condo or a townhouse, and depending on the area, I will likely be limited to one bedroom/one bathroom options. I could spend more, but one of the reasons I want to move out is because I am ready to live without roommates.
Option two is go ahead and purchase a larger home and continue to live with a roommate. This is what many people suggest because apparently it’s better to buy something bigger because it will sell faster when I am ready to move again. However, this goes against the big reason why I want to buy a house: no more roommates!
Option three is to put aside my home-buying goal and wait. Wait for the market to slow down (hopefully!), wait for my boyfriend to decide if Nashville is where he would like to settle down and if I am the person he wants to settle down with, and pursue something together.
We’ll see what happens.
Lexie Frensley is a middle school teacher living in Nashville, Tennessee. She has a cat named Kevin Furant and a twitter account that sometimes features golden nuggets from her students, @copperoranges.